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Massimo Brunamonti

Egea presents new suspension tests for inspection authorities

Egea activities related to innovative suspension test, launched back in 2017, has been completed: the new Egea standard, designed to be an internationally harmonised method for both roadworthiness inspections and vehicle repair and maintenance, has been finalized and is about to be presented to both European and national competent authorities. When we mention suspensions, we mean safety, a subject that is particularly vital given the proliferation of Adas driver assistance systems. While these systems certainly make a decisive contribution towards safety, they also require constant compliance of the vehicle and its devices with design data. For example, if a vehicle is required to brake automatically in an emergency in order to avoid an accident, the computer will react autonomously by modulating the brakes according to the vehicle characteristics defined in the design phase. The question about whether the deceleration obtained is the one expected, seems reasonable. At least reasonable enough for a new vehicle, but for a vehicle with years of life and hundreds of thousands of kilometres under the bonnet, the braking power could prove to be insufficient if the vehicle lacks proper maintenance. In fact, deceleration is achieved thanks to efficient brakes and suspensions that have the task of maintaining adequate contact with the road, a necessary condition for the vehicle to stop. Therefore, it is only logical to think that suspensions should be subject to inspections, something that in Italy, as well as in many other countries, is currently not the case. The reason for failing to include suspension tests during the regular inspections is basically one: the absence of a protocol capable of verifying the safety standards of suspensions and produce homogeneous results everywhere. Hence Egea's initiative in favour of a new standard of suspension testing that goes beyond the limits of the old methods. Egea's proposal is a new solution derived from results already acquired and updated through technological developments: the "Phase-Shift" method consists of verifying that the phase shift between the frequency of oscillation of the un-sprung mass is within a limit that reflects the grip of the tires. The idea is based on studies originally carried out by the American Sae and on years of testing on circulating vehicles; the method found further application in Belgium by Goca (the management body for periodic roadworthiness inspections) since 2011, when suspension tests became mandatory for the entire national circulating fleet. Every year, around 4.5 million cars of all makes, types, ages and conditions are tested in Belgium with satisfactory results in terms of the number of rejections that do not deviate from vehicle manufacturers' data. The database collected is broadly representative of the vehicle fleet and provides a model that can be used throughout the EU. The equipment necessary to perform these tests, according to Egea standards, is the typical vibration bench derived from existing technology, modified to introduce the variation of the oscillation frequency and the measurement of the phase shift. The new test proposed by Egea solves years of methodological uncertainties and controversies between different solutions that have so far prevented its adoption; the Directive 2014/45, which provides for an inspection of the suspensions, does not impose an instrumental test, though advised. This is precisely the point: to adapt the Directive 2014/45 to the evolution of motor vehicles by introducing suspension tests, which is now possible. The Directive is dated 2014 and since then the technological evolution of motor vehicles has taken place at a dizzying pace to the point that the European Commission itself is aware of the need for updating the directive. We talk about eCall, Adas, particulate emissions and, of course, suspension tests; but it is now time to move from words to actions, and Egea's contribution goes precisely in this direction. A viable method based on a type of equipment suitable for an inspection center with its typical structures, personnel and capabilities, in order to obtain the necessary cost-effectiveness and thoroughness of the service. We hope the competent authorities will implement the proposal: as the numbers show, proper maintenance significantly reduces the possible damage in the event of an accident and a careful inspection is the best deterrent against "moving wrecks".


Coronavirus: what future can we expect for the auto repair sector?

In a sector swept by dramatic changes prompted by new mobility systems, the last thing anyone needed is further uncertainties linked to the recent outbreak of the coronavirus in an already complex social and economic scenario. The entire sector, traditionally quick in reacting, is perfectly aware of this. However, the discomfort remains great; if, on the one hand, auto-repair is considered an essential service more or less everywhere around the world, on the other, the temporary interruption in the production of garage equipment and spare parts is imposing a heavy burden on a wide number of companies. Preliminary evaluations of the consequences of the "lockdown" in Italy, point to a significant decrease in new registrations in 2020, somewhere in the region of 1.4 million cars in addition to the over 1.9 million in 2019. The direct consequences will be a slower introduction of new generation vehicles on the market: hybrids, EVs, assisted driving, etc. and an increase in the average life of vehicles. One might suppose that this will result in a higher volume of business for car repairers, but beware: vehicles over a certain age tend to receive less attention. Another significant consequence of being forced to stay at home is that consumers are bound to familiarize even more with the internet; this will certainly lead to new marketing models, new offers, new strategies and methods to promote customer loyalty. These issues are already on the agenda of a sector that, once again, shows its vitality, but the future waits for no one. As things stand, the problem is how to survive, as all trade associations are well aware. It comes as no surprise then, that all of them have sprung into action to monitor and prompt the relevant authorities in taking the necessary steps. The Alliance for the Freedom of Car Repair in Europe (AFCAR), of which Egea is a member, sent an open letter to the European Commission asking for adequate measures on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises that boast over 4.5 million workers across the continent. There is a need for immediate resources to finance a medium-long term reconstruction project that takes into account the strategic role of mobility in the EU. The survival of productive activities and the preservation of employment levels are the cornerstones of the recovery, and as such need to be protected at all costs. In this sense, dedicated fund have already been issued by the European Investment Fund (EIF), as reported by the European Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, Sme United. However, there are still problems in accessing credit: the banking system is not reacting with the necessary speed and alertness. This for the immediate future; in the long term, still according to Sme United, things may be even more complicated; the exceptional nature of current events requires us to abandon the rigid parameters of the European Stability and Growth Pact and activate new financial instruments. But for any financial instrument to be truly effective, these must be used properly, and for this reason accurate studies are necessary. To this end, several national associations of vehicle manufacturers have launched investigations among their members in order to provide precise information on the impact of the crisis and assess what needs to be done. The garage equipment industry, which has always been global and accustomed to networking, intends to use the information both locally and to compile a commonly useful global overview. It is still too early to imagine what will happen next; everything will depend on the size and duration of the contagion but one thing is certain: things will be very hard and only those who know how to react will have new opportunities. Our sector has the extraordinary ability to react, a characteristic that stems from the vitality of the almost half a million small and medium-sized enterprises found in it. This time, however, the challenge is unprecedented, and the path to European and global information sharing will be paramount to be as well informed, proactive and influential as we deserve.


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